It was looking like another grim night at the Air Canada Center for the Toronto Raptors going into the 4th quarter, but an unexpected unit went on a massive run to come back and win the game 90-85.
The Raptors started this game off hot, and it was a well deserved starting nod for Norman Powell, who carried over the momentum he had with the starting unit from the 2nd half against Chicago. This got the Raptors off to a booming start as they led the game 31-20 after the first quarter.
The nice lead remained in tact through the second quarter, but the lead really did not feel safe as the Raptors were struggling on offense, and were consistently relying on Derozan to hit tough and contested shots against one of the best wing defenders in the NBA. Charlotte was really chipping away slowly at the lead and cut it down to three at half time.
The third quarter began and it was the Frank Kaminsky and Kemba Walker show. They were simply hitting everything, and you could hear a pin drop in the ACC as the third quarter buzzer sounded with the scoreboard showing 75-58.
Demar Derozan was downright awful in this game, and the Raptors started the 4th with a lineup with him sitting out, as per usual to begin the 4th. Derozan went 5-19 with ten points and that is simply inexcusable from your star player, especially when most of these shots were forced low percentage looks and were downright frustrating to watch as a fan. Derozan, who is usually so good at getting to the line, took just two free throws and missed both of them. He has really looked bad lately, and the Raptors only hope of getting back in this game was with him off the court.
Lowry, Joseph, Wright, Carroll and Jakub Poeltl began the 4th quarter in a game that kind of felt like it would feature Wright and Poeltl closing for all the wrong reasons along with a few other end of the bench players.
As per nbawowy.com, this unit had never played together before coming into the night, but the chemistry and ball movement they displayed was simply outstanding.
The quarter started off great, as Delon Wright was simply everywhere on defense, and the Raptors ball movement was suddenly back for the first time in ages. The Raptors had just 10 assists in the first three quarters, and they recorded 9 assists in the fourth alone. Having three ball handlers out there who can put the ball on the floor, along with a big man who knows his place on the court and sets great screens was an interesting look.
The group started on fire, and the ACC slowly began to get loud again. For the first time in a long time, the ACC fans got to see some great ball movement, picture perfect offense, and some inspiring defense. Charlotte did not make a field goal for nine minutes, while the Raptors went on a 22-2 run to take the lead.
Joseph, Wright and Lowry were a really interesting look, and Delon Wright is the first “small forward” the Raptors have had this year on the court who can put the ball on the floor and have the ability to find a teammate or his own shot with ease, and his defense was simply outstanding. His length is an incredible tool for this team, and it was nice to see Casey look in his direction.
The Raptors built their lead up to 87-82 with 30 seconds left when Nicolas Batum drained a really tough three pointer to make it a game again. The first thing that ran through my mind was that the Raptors were going to run an iso and dribble out the shot clock, while Lowry takes a hero ball shot. Thankfully, I was wrong, and the theme of unselfish play from the Raptors continued to show itself. A high pick and roll from Poeltl was executed perfectly, and help came, which led to Poeltl showing off his passing ability and finding Demarre Carroll for a three pointer to seal the game.
The unit had one less assist than points allowed, and it was simply inspiring basketball. The Raptors continue to be an impressive team with Demar Derozan off the court this year, and despite his great scoring ability, games like tonight from him are extremely concerning and becoming more prevalent. If his shots aren’t falling he provides nothing on the defensive end and really not much else positive. He is a great scorer, but hopefully he observed a thing or two tonight and realized that sometimes it can be someone else “getting his” for the sake of the team.
Delon Wright gets the game ball from me tonight, as his 11 points and 2 steals didn’t really tell the tale of the impact he had on this game. Also there needs to be a ton of credit given to Jakub Poeltl, who was very sharp in the fourth quarter after being cold for three quarters of sitting on the bench. Kyle Lowry had 21 points, and despite shooting poorly, Demarre Carroll grabbed 11 rebounds and poured in three three pointers.
It was a fun night at the ACC, and with the all star break here now, this fourth quarter led by some unexpected heroes could be the turning point of the season as the team heads into the break with this style of play engraved in their heads. With Patrick Patterson and Serge coming back, there will be more room for Derozan and perhaps two trustworthy hands he can pass to rather than forcing up a contested shot.
Without trying to overblow this game, as the first three quarters were very ugly, this game could help turn the Raptors season around, and it will help head coach Dwane Casey sleep easy for now.
Enjoy the all star break everybody, and let’s hope that Serge Ibaka lives up to expectations in his first game. There are no games until February 24th, but it is a big one against the Boston Celtics at home, where Serge will make his much anticipated debut.